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BRAND CANVAS: QAYTU
By: Eline Steurs
The story of Qaytu, meaning yarn in Quechua, an ancestral language from Peru, began almost 20 years ago. Yurac, the founder of Qaytu, explains her mother's business exporting natural fibers to Europe, Asia and the US. Their family was known to be very popular sourcers and producers of natural fibers—until the 2008 crisis. Asia, offering lower prices and good quality, replaced Latin America in fiber production. Because of this competition, the textile industry in Latin America crashed, almost bringing down the family business with it. From that point, Yurac's family decided to only produce for smaller brands, with sustainability at the core of their endeavors. Yurac wanted to focus on creating her own brand, though. After three years of hard work and research, Qaytu, was brought to life.
Despite being an independent brand, Qaytu welcomes collaboration. They have a partnership with a community in the south of Peru developing recycled fishnets together, which has inspired a future collection. Qaytu also has an alliance with a community in the north, developing a unique native cotton growing in 12 different colors. This cotton is particularly special because of its controversial history; many years ago the government, due to economic reasons, forbade its development and culture because the colors were too specific and not easily dyeable. Now, there is a renewed effort to use this unique cotton, as seen through Qaytu's effort to incorporate it in their collections. In addition to this, Qaytu and the Northern Peruvian community work with regenerated cotton. They gather the leftovers from factories, separate cotton and polyester, and crush it to create a new fiber.
“It’s like giving them a new life. You can dye it from any colour you want. It’s a very cool material, it’s nice on the body as well, your skin can still breathe because all the qualities of cotton remain.”
Currently, Qaytu is searching for a new community to partner with them to embroider their clothing. Qaytu wants to share the benefits of creating this brand with others, and is cautious not to appropriate the communities they work with.
“We have basic lines, colors and textures and they add an extra layer to it. Co-creation, not appropriation.”
Addressing SDG #10, Reduced Inequalities, Qaytu focuses on employing women.
"In Peru, abuse is still very common. The inequalities between men and women are huge. We see these inequalities in rural areas, the communities and local cities we work in."
In Arequipa, a city in the south of Peru, Qaytu works with 12 different families. Yurac explains that the women in these families typically make around $30 a month through selling small objects. But by collaborating with Qaytu, these women earn minimum wage, around $300 per month in Peru, and consequently gain a voice in their family.
“The family dynamic has completely changed, just by giving women the ability to work. That’s how we are reducing inequalities, both economically and socially, in rural communities of the country.”
A similar movement is taking place in the Northern community, but employing both women and men. At first, Yurac details, men were hesitant about working with fibers and clothing because they viewed it as women's work.
"With time, men are volunteering to do the job because they now see that it's interesting and fun. We have two men working with us now. They start to view women as human beings, capable of doing the exact same things as men."
Yurac emphasizes that Qaytu doesn't just support women, they support families.
“That’s why we don’t only talk about empowering women, because it implies that they are the only people we are supporting. We empower the families. We see that children start seeing their mothers as something else than just a maid. We have many stories where the men didn’t want to talk to me or my mother because we are women. After a few months, they finally got curious about what we were doing. Now we go there and they cook for us, because now they feel that since the women are working, they have to take care of them."
Qaytu hopes to create a fundamental, lasting change in regard to gender equality long after production ends.
"That’s what’s so powerful about fashion; it can be feel so insignificant in a way, and yet in time it can create huge changes. The most important thing right now is that these situations continue even when we leave, because something in their mind changed."
Because Peru is a country with 5,000 years of textile history, Qaytu created the Sustainable Fashion Association of Peru in 2015 with a goal of informing Peruvians of the clothing that they wear.
“The way of working here was so in peace with the world and was so aligned with the rivers and we lost it at some point...The Peruvians started to believe in the capitalistic story: now we only want what is not made in Peru. There was a stigma around being local. It was more popular to buy from international brands than from local brands. Over the years we have been trying to change that situation."
The Sustainable Fashion Association of Peru gives consumers the information and opportunity to decide who they want to support.
"There was a disconnect between your second skin and your actual skin. The association aims to create awareness, and show that there are more options than fast fashion. We’re trying to give all the information we can to people. Knowledge is the only thing that can change a person’s mind."
Qaytu is a contemporary brand that designs feminine clothes, but they want to give a message that their clothes are for everybody.
"We’re trying to give a message that we don’t believe in genders, age and sizes. We are working on a campaign where we’re going to dress a transgender person, an old person, a boy and a girl in the same outfit. We want to bring awareness that you can wear whatever you want. Our next collection will be genderless and have many sizes and is intended for anyone who likes it. If you feel like wearing it, do it."
In the future, Qaytu plans to focus on gaining exposure in Peru in order to spread information and awareness on alternative options to fast fashion. Yurac also wants to express and share the value of working with these communities in Peru.
Qaytu is now available at The Canvas Brooklyn, The Canvas Antwerp and online.